24 March 2019

Outstanding Homily for Oculi

People loved by God, this is the wonderful homily that we heard this morning at St. Paul's, delivered by Pr. Wm. Gleason. Enjoy!

Sermon for Oculi - Lent 3, 2019
Exodus 8:16-24; Luke 11:14-28 • Rev. William Gleason

Every time I hear about the plague of flies that God sent upon the Egyptians, it reminds me of a story told to me by a former parishioner in Missouri. He was a professor of history and archeology, and often traveled to the holy land for study.

He told me that in the holy land, flies are everywhere. They're so persistent and swarming that people don't even bother to swat them away. They just let them crawl over everything, including themselves.

The middle east being an arid land, the flies are drawn to a person's lips seeking the moisture there. Again, people would just put up with it…until they became too numerous or the person wanted to speak or eat. Then he would take his index finger and wipe it over his lips to remove the pests.

I don't tell this story to make your skin crawl. But it occurred to me, especially in the context of today's Bible readings, how well this illustrates the way God delivers us from the demonic attacks we suffer in this dark world ruled by the prince of demons, Beelzebul.

Beelzebul means "lord of the flies," and is one of the names for Satan. He was also one of the many idols of the Egyptians. When the Lord God sent the plague of flies swarming into Egypt and into the homes of the Egyptians, He was not only trying to soften Pharaoh's heart, He was also calling the Egyptians to repent of their idolatry. He was showing them who is the Creator of the flies and of all creatures; indeed, the Creator of heaven and earth. In this and in all of the plagues, He was calling them to turn away from their unbelief and false worship, and to turn to the true and living God.

Well, Beelzebul, the devil, still plagues the world with his hordes of demons seeking the attention and worship of men and women. He is particularly intent on tormenting Christians since we worship the true God who has delivered us from sin, death and hell through the blood of His Son. Like the ancient Israelites who were set apart and protected in the land of Goshen, so believers are set apart and protected in the holy, Christian Church. But, as we are still in this world, we must labor and struggle among and against the forces of darkness, as well as the "sons of disobedience," as Paul described those who reject the Gospel.

We are sojourners in this foreign land, and the devil is busy trying to tempt us and otherwise make our lives miserable. How does he do this? Well, there are countless ways, really, but in today's Epistle St. Paul gives us a good primer on the devil's devices. He lists three of the worst human vices: sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness. These are the go-to sins where Satan knows he can reap the most fruit of his evil enticements.

The first is sexual immorality. The KJV better translates it as fornication. The Greek word is porneia and means exactly what it sounds like. This sin has become so commonplace and so glamorized in our society, and in all of western societies, that it has turned into a perverted, twisted kind of morality. If you're not into it, then you're just not cool. It saturates our entertainment and our news; it is the most graphic and freely available on the internet; it is taught in our schools, from elementary to university (it has nearly become criminal to speak against it). And, saddest of all, it is glorified and promoted within churches, always falsely justified for the "sake of the Gospel." Satan has the world so enslaved to this depravity that he barely has to work at all tempting people to indulge in it.

The second vice is impurity. It's closely related to the first but includes any kind of impure incentive to sin. Impurity is the conceited and corrupt attitude that says it's okay to lie and steal, defame and kill as long as it is for a "good" purpose. But, for the sinner, that simply means any justification to satisfy his desires and lusts.

The last vice is what might be called the bedrock of the others: covetousness. That's the greedy lust of the sinful heart that moves a sinner to engage in every kind of sin. From enmity toward God and His Word to animosity toward our neighbor, covetousness turns the self, that carnal trinity of me, myself and I, into the greatest of all false gods. That's why Paul calls it idolatry. Satan can always appeal to the covetous heart to tempt a man to commit any kind of sin he wants.

This is the environment in which we Christians live. And there the devil attacks us and our faith. He tries to deceive us into false belief and disobedience to God. He tempts us to give up on our faith and our Lord. Like swarms of flies that relentlessly pester us, he, his demons, and the "sons of disobedience" in his service, try to drive us into a weary, spiritual complacency. They want the Christian to tire of fighting the good fight, to give in and just put up with the evils of the world. To go along with and even condone them. Or, worse, like the demon-possessed man in the Gospel lesson, Satan tries to mute our prayers and our praise to God by causing us to despair and lose hope. And, as Luther wrote in his famous hymn, "With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected."

Of course, he continues, "But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected." Christ Jesus, our Sabaoth Lord and our only God, has come to deliver us from every attack of Satan. By the "finger of God," His Holy Spirit, He casts out every unclean spirit that seek to devour us. By His forgiving Word, He wipes away every sin and removes all guilt with which Satan would accuse us. Jesus is the stronger man who overcomes the evil one who, by "deep guile and great might," had taken us captive; who once imprisoned us in his hellish stronghold. Christ has overcome him and taken away the "armor" in which the devil trusted, "the power of death." Jesus disarmed the devil when He conquered death on the cross. He showed that He truly is the stronger man when He rose from the grave. His resurrection proves that death has no power over those who call upon Christ by faith.

The plagues that God brought down on Pharaoh and the Egyptians culminated in the tenth and last plague: the death of the first-born. Just before that, God instituted the Passover to protect His people from that hideous death. The blood of a lamb without blemish was painted on the doorposts of their homes. As they ate the flesh of that fragrant offering to God, and covered by its sacrificial blood, the angel of death passed over them. God delivered them from their bondage to Beelzebul, the prince of demons.

Jesus, our loving Savior, "gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." He is our paschal Lamb whose blood covers us, saving us from eternal death. His flesh is our food that strengthens us for the fight. By His death and resurrection, to which you were joined the waters of Holy Baptism, He has delivered you from the realm of darkness and brought you into His light. And in the light of His truth, we may walk as His Children. By His Spirit, we may resist the devil and flee from every temptation. By His holy Word, He has shown you all that is good and right and true. And you are truly blessed as you hear His word and keep it. Amen.


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